Spotlight on: Willow and Willa

I’ve been planning for months to post this spotlight on the Friday before Palm Sunday, but being only a day late, and being before Palm Sunday, is, in this time, a real success on my end!

I read a charming piece at First Things a while ago by Brian Doyle called “Willow Sunday,” which was about a Palm Sunday during his growing up when his parish couldn’t afford palm fronds and used willow branches instead. Already my mind was clicking about the possibility of Willow for a Palm Sunday baby if I belonged to a parish that had a story like that when I read this bit in an article by Fr. Francis X. Reiser called “History of Palm Sunday”:

“The various names for the Sunday before Easter come from the plants used — palms (Palm Sunday) or branches in general (Branch Sunday; Domingo de Ramos; Dimanche des Rameaux). In most countries of Europe real palms are unobtainable, so in their place people use many other plants: olive branches (in Italy), box, yew, spruce, willows, and pussy willows. In fact, some plants have come to be called palms because of this usage, as the yew in Ireland, the willow in England (palm-willow) and in Germany (Palmkatzchen). From the use of willow branches Palm Sunday was called Willow Sunday in parts of England and Poland, and in Lithuania Verbu Sekmadienis (Willow-twig Sunday). The Greek Church uses the names Sunday of the Palm-carrying and Hosanna Sunday.” (my emphasis)

Willow Sunday is actually a name for Palm Sunday! (The Catholic Encyclopedia notes this as well.) I love the idea of Willow for a baby girl born on or near Palm Sunday!

Of course, I couldn’t do a spotlight on Willow and not include Willa, which at least one of you used in part as a nod to Willa Cather (which I swooned about when I first heard it and still do). Behind the Name has Willow as being from the Old English word welig, while Willa is a feminine form of William. I personally would consider both Willow and Willa if I wanted to name a baby girl after a William; similarly, I would consider both Willow and Willa if I wanted to name a baby girl after Palm Sunday. Do you agree? I love that both the holy Williams and Palm Sunday add some real Catholic oomph to these names!

What do you think of Willow and Willa? Have you named a daughter Willow or Willa, or would you? If so, is it because of Willa Cather or father/grandfather/uncle William, or did you already know about the Palm Sunday connection?


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon — perfect for expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady!